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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Thousands Pay Ballerina Last Respects




Thousands of people came to the Bolshoi Theater on Wednesday to pay their last tribute Galina Ulanova, the woman widely acclaimed as Russia's greatest ballerina of the 20th century, who died over the weekend.


With the tunes from classical ballets playing in the background, mourners filed silently past Ulanova's open coffin at a memorial ceremony in the theater's foyer. She was later buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery.


The memorial service was attended by leading figures from Russia's cultural establishment as well as former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov. The Bolshoi's artistic director, Vladimir Vasilyev, read out a tribute from President Boris Yeltsin.


The line of people wanting to see the great dancer for the last time stretched from the Bolshoi almost to the State Duma building 200 meters away.


As well as a sea of flowers, some mourners, most of them elderly, were clutching pictures of Ulanova dating back 50 years. "This is from my late wife's collection," said Alexander Prokhorov, a pensioner and a proud owner of a photograph of Ulanova taken in 1940. "She used to love her, and we were lucky to see Galina Sergeyevna [Ulanova] dance a few times,"


Ulanova died Saturday, aged 88, after suffering a second stroke. She was credited with returning Russian dance to the international stage after years of isolation when she led the Bolshoi ballet on a tour to London and New York in the 1950s. And until her very last days she did not leave the Bolshoi, where she was coaching solo performers.


"Ulanova's death means the end of an entire era. She worked with the theater for 54 years and that is a quarter of its history," said Vasilyev, who during his career as a dancer was one of Ulanova's favorite pupils. "She started her career in Leningrad with Giselle, and her last work was training the soloists for our new version of that ballet."


"She was the soul of the Russian ballet. She was the person whose principles and ideals in art are very close to me, and I will keep trying to achieve them," said Ulyana Lopatkina, the prima ballerina of the Kirov Ballet, who came from St. Petersburg to attend the memorial service.


Unique in her talent as a romantic dancer, Ulanova was also a loner in her personal life. She lived in a Stalin-era skyscraper on Kotelnicheskaya Naberezhnaya in downtown Moscow, where she was often spotted on her way to and from Bolshoi.


"I used to recognize her from a long distance," said Vladimir Zheleznikov, a children's writer who lives in the same building. "She was old, but the way she moved, it was more like she was flying above the ground."


For many the flying, seemingly weightless run over two flights of stairs she executed in Sergei Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet" has become a trademark of Ulanova and of Russian ballet as a whole.


"She will remain this Juliet running to her beloved Romeo and never stopping," said Raisa Struchkova, another former star of the Bolshoi.


Ulanova was buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery, the traditional resting place for members of Soviet and now Russian cultural, military and scientific elite. Next to Ulanova lies Yury Nikulin, the much-loved Russian comic who died last summer.